Saturday, January 31, 2015

My January Reads, 2015

I didn't write monthly posts last year about what I had been reading. I did do a year-end wrap-up of how many books I'd read and mentioned a couple by title as well as the names of some of the authors.
This year, with my daughter's encouragement, I will once again do an end-of-month tally. It's similar to when I worked as a bookkeeper and "closed the books" each month. It's just a different type of bookkeeping. 

First off, the book I'm happiest about, Les Lynam's Before You Leap. I could not be any more proud of my little brother. Even though he e-mailed me sections of his book as he wrote it, it was quite another feeling to actually hold the book and read it from beginning to close. I won't say end, because this time-travel tale is just the first part of the Time Will Tell series. In fact, the second book, Saves Nine, came out last week.
When I read along as he wrote it, I could not help trying to identify the models for his characters. That was fun, but it probably detracted me from the overall story. So reading it in its final book form, I was more attuned to the flow of the narration and where it was taking me. I also was aware of how much editing the author had done of the original version. I could not help but think how hard that must have been. I know all that cutting of scenes and passages had to be like losing one of your children - at the very least, punishing your child, 'because it is for their own good'. The result may be tighter, but I thought the dialog between his three male friend characters was brilliant and was sorry not all those scenes made it into the final version. Likewise for some of the female characterizations, especially the 'mean girls'. Les' dialog is spot on.
Of course my fondest hope is that this series will achieve broad readership and accolades for the author. But even if that doesn't happen, I hope my brother realizes what an achievement it is for him to have written and published his book(s). And how honored I am that he included me in the 'Acknowledgements: Special Thanks' section. I gave this book a 4.0. Looking forward to reading Saves Nine.

Small Towns, Dark Places by Tansy Undercrypt is another January read with a family connection - the author is a friend of my daughter's. Kari gave me this book of short stories for Halloween two years ago. I have to admit I read the first two or three stories and put it aside. Those Dark Places were just a little too dark for me at that time.
But I became more receptive to Tansy's writing when Kari would 'like' some of her posts on Facebook. I now read this 'Purveyor of Doom and Whimsy' each day at You can also follow Tansy on Pinterest. She is one interesting woman and her writings are sublime.
When Kari reviewed Small Towns on (October 24, 2012), she said 'Salt' and 'Barn' were her two favorite stories. 'Spirit House' and 'Salt' were mine. Tansy's second book, Harder Things, is due out this spring. I rated this book 3.5.

John Searle's, Strange But True (4.0), Louise Penny's, The Cruelest Month (4.5) and Tiffany Baker's, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County (3.5), were all books I wanted to read, but that our library didn't have. Thanks to my son, Mark, for bringing these with him when he visited us from New York in December. I loved every one of them.

I only read three books from the library this month: Charleston (3.0) by Margaret Bradham Thornton; The Red Tent (3.0) by Anita Diamant and The Arsonist (3.5) by Sue Miller. I've really become a fan of Miller's. I like her suspenseful, emotionally insightful, psychologically nuanced books.
I read The Red Tent because in December I saw that it had been made into a mini-series which I thought looked interesting. Instead of watching it at that time, we recorded it because I wanted to read the book first. I remembered my daughter-in-law, Shelly, reading and liking the book ten or more years ago. It wasn't anything that interested me at the time. The movie followed the book very well - better than most books-to-movies. And I like the author's writing well enough that I've added her latest, The Boston Girl, to my 'want to read' list.

I have always saved passages which 'speak' to me as I read. This is from Charleston, taken from Joseph Brodsky's collection of essays "On Grief and Reason": "No one can tell you what lies ahead, least of all those who remain behind. One thing, however, they can assure you of is that it's not a round trip. Try, therefore, to derive some comfort from the notion that no matter how unpalatable this or that station may turn out to be, the train doesn't stop there for good. Therefore you are never stuck - not even when you feel you are; for this place today becomes your past. From now on, it will only be receding for you, for that train is in constant motion. It will be receding for you even when you feel that you are stuck....So take one last look at it, while it is still its normal size, while it is not yet a photograph. Look at it with all the tenderness you can muster, for you are looking at your past."

So, with all the tenderness I can muster, a look at my past with that little brother I've always been so proud of ......

.....sorry, sweetie, I just had to do it. Maybe when your time travel series is complete you can pen a western or two?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Are You A Teacher?"

I was asked this question so many times in my life and it wasn't just during the years I was married to a teacher, though it probably happened more often then. Other than 'playing school', the closest I came to being a teacher was the summers I was fifteen and then sixteen and helped teach Vacation Bible School at our country church, Fairview.

Of course my Mother was my first teacher, just as all parents are. She helped ready me for my first day of 'real' school which was Jasper Center located a mile north of where we lived. (We called it Jasper #2. It was also known as the Humbert School.)

I think this photo is of the last day of school the spring before I began school in the fall. That's the old school house behind us. Mom has her arm around me while holding my little sister's hand. Before photo bombing was ever even dreamed of, our neighbor boy, Normie, did just that.

I remember some things about my first grade teacher, Miss Ternahan, and my second grade teacher, Miss Flowers, but the teacher I remember most was the one I had third through eighth grades, Mrs. Kimball. And I don't think that is just because I had her as a teacher for so many years.

1954-55 School Year. Me on the right in the back row next to Mrs. Kimball.

I believe it had more to do with her as a person and a teacher. She was a good teacher, seeing to it that we actually learned something. When you think about the role a one-room country school teacher plays, you realize how much more she has to be than the teacher. She is also the school nurse, janitor, psychologist, disciplinarian, arbitrator, physical education instructor, guidance counselor, sometime school bus driver - though it wasn't a bus, but her personal car she used to convey us to reading and spelling contests as well as sports days with other country schools in the township. She could be understanding and sympathetic if things were going wrong, but she could also tell you to quit feeling sorry for yourself if the occasion warranted it.
Naturally there were times when I was less than enchanted with her, but then my friends and I would discuss which of the other teachers we knew we'd rather have, and we always decided none of them.

L-to-R, Me, Mrs. Kimball, son, Preston and daughter, Kari.

I liked and admired her as a teacher and later as a friend. I was glad when two of my children also had her as a teacher many years later. Vera, as I learned to address her once I was an 'adult', was also directly responsible for me obtaining my first office job. I will be forever grateful to this woman, the teacher of my formative years in that most educational one-room schoolhouse.

Maxine and me at her 96th birthday party last year.

Over the past year I've been very fortunate to meet and then become a friend of another special woman who began her life-long profession as a one-room country school teacher. From the stories she has shared of her teaching years, I have come to appreciate Maxine as a very wise, gifted purveyor of learning and motivator in the seeking of knowledge. As an example: She told me of an elementary student she had - a boy so intelligent it was hard to keep him from being bored with the normal curriculum - so she set him to learning the German language.
Maxine not only encouraged her students in the obtaining of an education, she practiced what she preached, spending nights, weekends and summers obtaining her own higher degrees while continuing to teach in the classroom during the school year.

This photo is of Maxine and her students at Grant Center in Ringgold County during the 1956-57 school year. That was the same school year I completed eighth grade at Jasper #2 in Adams County. Sometimes after I've spent an afternoon with Maxine, conversing along our usual widespread topics, I find myself wondering what it would have been like to have had her as my teacher. With her emphasis on the importance of education, would I have been more likely to go to college? And then what would my life have been like? I might have even been answering that question, "Are you a teacher?", with a "Why yes, yes I am."

Monday, January 26, 2015

You Put the Lime in the Coconut and Drink it All Up

I made a coconut cake a few days ago, which made me think of that song. Only in my case, I used pineapple instead of a lime and we ate it all up instead of drinking it. I have always liked coconut and can remember Mom buying a whole coconut once in awhile. She would punch holes in it and drain the coconut milk/water. I have a vague memory of drinking some and not liking it. However, in my memory, Mom drank it. That was long before drinking coconut water became a health fad. I liked eating the chunks of fresh coconut after it was cracked open.

Not the best picture, but at least I remembered to take one before the cake was all gone. This is the same Coconut/Pineapple Poke Cake recipe I used for the first time for my niece's 45th birthday cake. It is the first time I've made it for us, and while it is very good, I think I prefer the one I make without the pineapple. There are many different kinds of poke cakes - probably the most well known, the jello ones.
Here is the recipe for the cake, as I made it: 1 box Pineapple Cake Mix (you can use any type white or yellow cake mix); 3 Eggs; 1 14 oz can Coconut Milk (not cream); 1/2 cup Flaked Coconut; 1 8 oz can Crushed Pineapple, drained (save juice); 1 1/2 cups milk (more or less); 1/2 cup sugar; 1/2 cup coconut.
Beat cake mix, eggs and coconut milk 2 minutes. Stir in coconut and pineapple. Bake as directed per pan size on box. Cool 15 minutes.
Add enough milk to the reserved pineapple juice to make 1 1/2 cups. Mix with sugar and 1/2 cup coconut in a saucepan. Bring to boil, then simmer for 1 minute. Poke holes in the cake. (I used my large meat fork.) Spoon the milk/pineapple juice mixture over the warm cake. Put in refrigerator to cool. Frost with whipped cream or cool whip. Top with flaked coconut.
This cake was good the first day, BUT, it was REALLY good the second day and beyond. Keep refrigerated.

Other thoughts on the lime - I don't remember Mom buying limes for anything, but she used a lot of lemons for fresh lemonade in the summer time - until she discovered Wyler's Lemonade mix. About the only time I use fresh lime is in a gin and tonic. Oh, and if I do drink a cola, Diet Coke with Lime is my favorite.

♪♪ You put the lime in the coconut and drink them both together. Put the lime in the coconut and you feel better. Put the lime in the coconut and drink 'em all up. ♪♪

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"The Farmer Takes A Wife"

No, I'm not blogging about the T.V. show The Bachelor. But if anything could make me watch that program, having this season's bachelor being a farmer from Iowa would.
My post title comes from an unexpected "little hello for 2015" we received from Kristina in yesterday's mail.

The May 1939 issue of the Farm Journal. Oh my goodness! I read this 'older than me' magazine with much more avidity than I would any current publication. The cover illustration is Grant Wood's Spilt Milk. I feel certain the magazine is something Gene and Kristina found on one of their antiquing forays. Kristina mentioned in her note how much they enjoyed learning about Iowa's own, Grant Wood.

Note that the cover says Farm Journal and Farmer's Wife. This was the first issue combining what had been two separate magazines both published monthly by Farm Journal, Inc., Washington Square, Philadelphia, Pa.

And this is the sweet cover of The Farmer's Wife section of the magazine illustrated by Mallé (Maud) Tousey Fangel, touting the short story, "The Farmer Takes A Wife". The Farm Journal section also contains a story - part three of the serialized "No Man's Land". I haven't read it yet, but I have the feeling I will like it better than the one in the womens' section.

The best parts of this old magazine, for me, are the ads. Ads for Gold Medal and Pillsbury flours, Lux and Palmolive soap, Prince Albert, Velvet and Union Leader (pipe and 'roll your own' cigarette) tobaccos, Savage automatic and bolt action rifles and Daisy Air Rifles. The air rifle, what we called B-B guns, at $2.50 was about half the price of a bolt action, single shot, Savage .22 at $4.95. (The most expensive rifle was the Model 6 automatic which held 15, .22 long cartridges.)

The "big three", Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth, all had full page ads. Naturally I used the Plymouth example. I remember many long debates (arguments?) among the boys in grade school as to which was the best car. Dad drove a Plymouth, Mitchell's stuck up for Chevy's and someone, maybe Talty, argued Fords were best. $685 for a Sedan! Tires for a car cost that much today.

Then there was this ad for Colored Dinnerware. No where in the ad does it say Fiesta Ware but that has to be what it is. The offer is a way to earn your own sets by selling Farm Journal subscriptions. Colors were: luscious raspberry red, sunny yellow, powder blue and lettuce green. Tangerine could be substituted for the red, "if you prefer". The ad says: "Your Last Chance" - the offer was being repeated for the benefit of Farm Journal readers because "thousands of readers of Farmer's Wife have already secured their sets."

And the chicken ads! I counted forty different  display ads for chicks and a column and half of classified ads for them (about 30 ads). Of all those companies I know of at least one still in business today, 76 years later - Murray McMurray Hatchery, Webster City, Iowa. ( I think I'm going to sign up for their e-mail newsletter.
Raising chickens has become de rigueur in urban areas. It was just part of the farm operation in my day. Although looking at the Non-Sensor column in this magazine, I think it may have been a money making proposition, too - Uncle Levi Zinc Says: "Seasons come and seasons go, but this is the season when any good office man can take pencil and paper and quickly get rich raising chickens."

I have the feeling this old magazine may spark some more blog entries. It has certainly brought back some memories. The final thought in the Topics In Season column: "Things are growing. Wherever you look there is life -- colts in the pasture, calves in the barn, chicks under the brooder, bees in the orchard, new grass in the fields, green leaves on the trees, early planted crops sprouting.
Anyone looking for hidden values in rural life can find them in May."

It may only be January, but I'm ready for spring!

Sunday, January 4, 2015


A few mornings ago I awakened thinking about yodeling. My first thought was, "Why yodeling?" I don't know about you, but I associate yodeling with the Swiss. One of Mom's cousins was a good yodeler and Mom could yodel some. I deduced that it was their Swiss ancestry from the Mauderly's and Romang's showing up in their DNA.

Then I read the Wikipedia entry on yodeling which states that it is thought yodeling was introduced in the United States by German immigrants in Pennsylvania in the early 1800's. Aha, so not only the Mauderly's and Romang's are involved, but so are the Ridnour's.

Eventually yodeling made its way into popular music. By the 1930's and 40's yodeling was prevalent in both folk music and country western. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers both included yodeling in the songs they sang on their T.V. shows - which is probably what I remember best about yodeling. It was perhaps even the catalyst for my Mom demonstrating that she could yodel - after seeing me trying to yodel after watching an episode of Roy Rogers. Possibly the one where he sang The Cowboy Night Herd song.  My favorite, though, was Eddie Arnold singing/yodeling his signature song Cattle Call. 
The most surprising yodeler I learned about while reading the Wikipedia entry was my Rock and Roll hero, Bill Haley. Yes, that Bill Haley of Rock Around the Clock. 

In addition to yodeling, my Mom could also strum the guitar. She told me she could only chord, and while her guitar was up in the attic, I never saw her play it or even hold it. I don't know why she never brought it down nor what happened to it. In this photo of Mom (Ruth Ridnour on the right), her sister, Lois, is holding a guitar. Their cousins, Harris (mandolin) and Carroll (guitar) Robison are the boys pictured with them.

Cleo Inman McCuen was the yodeling cousin of Mom's I mentioned in the first paragraph. Cleo's mother, Lottie Ridnour Inman and Mom's father, Joe Ridnour, were brother and sister. When Cleo died four years ago, so many of the celebration wall messages remarked about her yodeling. For example: "We first met Cleo at the Woodburn Dance. Cleo was asked to sing and she got up and yodeled. What a hit she was there." And this one: "We had such a good time entertaining at the meal sites, nursing homes, Adams County Fair and jams. She was always joyful and laughing and yodeling away." I personally only saw Cleo perform once and that was at the county fair. Boy, could she yodel.

It makes me wonder if Mom might have been as good if she had practiced and continued to yodel.

Oh-di-lay-ay, di-lay-dee-oh, de-lay-ee.....

Saturday, January 3, 2015

An Average Of Two Books A Week in 2014

I did not do semi-monthly or monthly posts about the books I read in 2014 as I have done in years past. But I did keep track of my reads by month, rating the books on a 1 to 5 scale.
Today, as I finished and recorded the first book read in 2015, I got curious about last year's readings. This is what I found: I read 104 books in 2014, which averages two books a week. I read the highest number of books in November. That might have had something to do with the early, bitter, cold snap we had. I read the least number of books in the months of April and May, only four each of those two months. April's lack of reads I can account for - we were on vacation from the 1st until the 12th. But May? I have no clue.

Zero number of books rated a 1. That is probably because if a book is that bad I don't continue reading it. I used to. I always felt like either the book was going to get better or I felt obligated to finish it just because I had begun reading it. Now, I give myself permission to quit reading - there are too many good books out there that I will never have time to read without spending time on bad ones.

Two books rated a 1.5.  One the first in a new series of "cute" mysteries. I already read enough of those without beginning another series. The second a book that received 3 and 4 ratings on Goodreads. When my ratings differ this much I always figure I missed something. This author had a previous book which was made into a movie and won a best supporting actress nomination for one of its actors.

Five ratings and 2 ratings tied with eight books apiece. 3.5 rated had 10 books while 11 books garnered ratings of 2.5. A rating of 4.5 was granted to 17 books; while 20 received a 3.0 from me. A whopping 28 books received 4.0's. I think I read some pretty good books.

The majority of my 5 rated books are by favorite authors - Louise Penny, Anita Shreve, Anna Quindlen, Sarah Addison Allen, Tiffany Baker and Jacqueline Winspear. But two new-to-me authors received 5's: Therese Walsh for The Moon Sisters and Gabrielle Zevin for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

I'm such an arbitrary rater - subject matter or story setting alone can tip me up or down in a rating. I've discovered a few new writers I enjoy and want to read more of their books, I've been riveted by books by old revered authors like Alice Hoffman (Blue Diary) and Ian McEwan (The Children Act) two very thought provoking books.

2015's first book of the year is by a new-to-me author. The book received a 3 rating, but the part of it which struck me the most was a quoted passage from Joseph Brodsky's collection of essays, On Grief and Reason. Perhaps I should return to blogging about the books I read?